Barcelona's Javier Mascherano has said that were it not for former Arsenal striker, Nicklas Bendtner, he wouldn't be sure where he would be now. The Argentine was talking about the Barcelona-Arsenal Champions League back in 2011 where the Catalans were leading the game with an aggregate scoreline of 4-3.
Having not had a single shot on target, all was going well for Pep Guardiola's side until Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere released Nicklas Bendtner through one-on-one vs Victor Valdes. The Dane controlled the ball but his first touch was a little wide of where he'd want it but was still charging at the keeper and just as he tried to go round Valdes and shoot, Mascherano came in with an excellently timed slide tackle saving Barcelona from going out in the last 16.
Recalling the incident, the Argentine said, "That tackle marked a before and after.
“Honestly,” he added, “after five, six months I thought it was unlikely I’d be here long: my characteristics seemed to go against everything Barcelona stood for. That moment marked me.
"If Bendtner had controlled the ball and gone the other way, he’d have got away from me and … uffff! … I don’t know what would’ve happened. But it happened the way it happened and we ended up winning that Champions League. Things worked out well.”
Mascherano has gone on to win the Liga trophy thrice, the Champions League twice and the FIFA Club World Cup twice with Barcelona. He's played 265 games for the Catalans and is an undroppable alongside Gerard Pique at the heart of the Catalan defence.
Having joined Barcelona as a midfielder, Mascherano says he didn't know where he would eventually play with Sergio Busquets already occupying the role he favoured but insists that he never gave up on it.
“I’ve always refused to give up. You think: ‘If I’m not playing at West Ham, how am I going to play for Liverpool when they already have Gerrard and Xabi Alonso?’ But I took that as a challenge and it was the same when I joined Barcelona. But it was hard and (by then) I knew I wouldn’t take Sergio Busquets’ place. Impossible, impossible. Think of another player anywhere who could do what Busquets does for this team … there isn’t one. It was hard to see myself having a long stay here.”
But that night against Arsenal, Mascherano said everything changed. The former Liverpool man said, “I actually played that game in midfield; it was Busquets who played at centre-back,” he recalls. “But from then on, I played at centre-back: that tackle changed everything. I found my position and I’ve been there all these years, trying to keep my place and keep this level. Until when? I don’t know because Barcelona demand a lot and have the possibility to sign whoever they want.”
Arsenal host Barcelona on 23rd February in the Champions League knockout rounds and Javier Mascherano will be hoping that this two-legged fixture doesn't come as close.Published 19 Feb 2016, 21:22 IST